One Piece is one of the most popular franchises that is literally taking over the world. More and more people are interested in the adventures of the pirates of the Straw Hat, and today we are going to tell you about this phenomenon. It’s impossible to describe such a monumental work in a short way, so we didn’t even try. Let’s get into it!
And here is the creator of One Piece himself.
Eiichiro Oda was inspired by Akira Toriyama’s work, namely the Dragon Ball manga (a classic for all works of the genre) and the animated series about the Viking Vicky, and was determined to create his own story with “blackjack and pirates”. In 1992, at the age of 17, Oda submitted a manga called Wanted! This prompted him to join the staff of the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, where he became an assistant to famous mangaka such as Masaya Tokuhiro and Nobuhiro Watsuki. For the latter’s manga, Rurouni Kenshin, he even came up with one of the characters.
That’s why the Viking giant island of Elbaf is quite significant in history.
In the mid-1990s, Eiichiro Oda wrote two variations of the story, which were united by the same title, Romance Dawn. In the story, the protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy, set sail to become a legendary pirate.
In August 1997, Oda began publishing a weekly manga called One Piece based on his ideas for Romance Dawn. The publisher rejected him three times, but finally decided to publish the story in Weekly Shonen Jump, a weekly shonen magazine (a genre of manga targeting teenagers aged 12 to 18). The series quickly caught on and became popular from the first chapters and became the best-selling series in the magazine’s history.
Initially, Eiichiro Oda planned for his manga to last for 5 years (which means that One Piece was supposed to end in 2002), but the author’s flight of fancy turned out to be limitless, so the story became so large-scale that it is now impossible to predict when it might end. Nevertheless, the author himself planned the ending of One Piece from the very beginning and repeatedly spoke about it in interviews. In fact, this man inspires only respect, because for 26 years he has been drawing manga every day almost without interruption and continues to do his job even when he is not feeling well.
Let us now consider the main reasons why One Piece has become so popular and why millions of fans around the world love it:
1. Incredibly gigantic and at the same time thoughtful plot
To describe the entire plot of One Piece and only the main storylines, we would need to break this article into 100500 parts and devote a lot of free time to this project alone, even though it is not even complete. Therefore, we will limit ourselves to a brief retrospective of the existing plot and analyze how its structure has changed over the years.
The plot structure of One Piece. This is by no means a meme, but the truth
One Piece itself is conventionally divided into 11 sagas, each of which can be divided into several different sized story arcs. An arch can be a few chapters long, like Logtown, or stretch over a hundred, like Dressrose. There are 32 arcs in total. Currently, the longest saga is the story of the country of Wano with 149 chapters and a “royal” 182 episodes of the anime adaptation, which will be completed in a few episodes.
The manga began as a standard shonen. There is a main character, Monkey D. Luffy, who dreams of becoming the Pirate King, tells everyone he meets (even the sea guards who catch pirates), and to fulfill his dream he wants to gather a team of 10 people (with a musician!!!) and go to the Grand Line to find One Piece. One Piece is a treasure left on an island by the Pirate King, Gol D. Roger, before his execution. No one knows what it is, so we decided not to translate the name. The first 100 chapters are devoted to the first adventures of the Straw Hat Pirates in the East Blue Sea, which is considered the weakest, although it is the birthplace of the Pirate King himself.
This period is characterized by small story arcs, each of which represented a new future member of the Straw Hat Pirates. The name came from Luffy’s headdress, which he miraculously did not lose for so many years, especially knowing about his incredible carelessness and inattention.
Next, the team of five (Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, and Sanji) crosses Mount Red Line and enters the dangerous Grand Line Sea, where, literally on the second day, the team crosses the road stronger than ever. The characters travel to much larger and more diverse islands, make new friends, and increase their bounties.
The adventures of the main characters are now briefly interrupted after each story arc to introduce characters important to the story that will be revealed only after 200-300 chapters, and in a way that can be shocking in how seamlessly it fits into the plot. For example, the identities of Luffy’s father and grandfather were shown at the beginning of the story, but we learn about their family ties only hundreds of chapters later. There are many such examples where the slightest detail, a small mention, or a background character will play a role later on and reveal the plot in a completely new way!
The next change in the plot structure occurs during the arch of Sabaudi Island, when the pirates of the Straw Hat were forced to split up and meet only after 2 years. This event was called a timeskip. After the timeskip, Oda began to pay much more attention to the development of the central plot. The way to find One Piece is revealed, some secrets of the world are answered, heroes start dying more often, Luffy finds more and more allies and gradually becomes one of the strongest pirates. Over time, the story grew to incredible proportions and epic proportions, but partially lost the same sense of carefree adventure in the vast ocean that we had before the timeskip. Back then, the plot revolved only around the Straw Hat crew, and their adventures were more isolated.
At the time of writing, the last saga began more than a year ago, as confirmed by Eiichiro Oda himself, and the legendary “One Piece will end in 5 years” has already become a meme in the fan community. The story is far from over, so fans can only rejoice, and the new audience feels very comfortable with the project, because no one can spoil the ending of One Piece for obvious reasons.
While many long-running franchises lose their quality and passion somewhere in the middle of the story, Eiichiro Oda manages to surprise readers even after 26 years with unexpected twists and turns that even the most loyal fans, who create a million theories about the plot, could not predict over such a long time (the most recent one being the revelation of the true nature of Luffy’s devil fruit, which literally “blew up the Internet”). New chapters still provoke heated discussions, and the fanbase is growing exponentially. The shonen genre in Japan is compared to superheroics in the West, and Eiichiro Oda himself was one of the creators of the main stamps of this trend. Today, contemporary mangaka are trying to deconstruct this genre in their works because the audience is tired of the same type of stories. But Oda still commands respect even among shonen haters with his bold plot decisions.
2. Universe structure
Eiichiro Oda has created one of the most interesting and diverse worlds that humanity has ever seen. A planet twice the size of the Earth, 20 million islands, dozens, if not hundreds of races, each island has its own rich history, this world is fascinating and surprising in its thoughtfulness. The author of each chapter gave us more and more information about the world of One Piece, and eventually everything became possible in this world!
At the beginning we were surprised by the existence of a race of fish people, but now you can see pirates, modern robots, zombies, and ancient samurai together and it will be perceived quite organically. Almost every island has a real prototype in our world. Water 7 is Venice, Arabasta is Egypt, Dressrose is Spain, and Wano is Japan. We are 100% sure that there is a separate island of Zaporizhzhya Cossacks in this world, but it hasn’t been shown yet. Most of the characters are named after iconic pirates, Marshal D. Teache “Blackbeard” is named after Edward Teache, the real-life “blackbeard”, H Drake is Francis Drake, Jewelry Bonnie is Anne Bonnie, Silvers Raleigh is Walter Raleigh, and so on.
If the fans are given free rein, this world will get no less incredible stories after the main story is over than the expanded Star Wars universe. There are definitely a lot of untold stories here that would be interesting to hear, and every other character deserves their own spinoff.
Currently, there are about 1,100 characters in One Piece who have had at least one line.
If you can’t find Bepo in 10 seconds, you owe us a like!
We’re not going to tell you about each character, because Luffy’s grandfather alone has accomplished feats in his own spinoff, but we’ll focus on the personality of the protagonist and his team.
Monkey D. Luffy accidentally ate the devil’s fruit as a child, which makes him a rubber man. Something like Mr. Fantastic from Marvel. At the beginning of the story, Luffy may seem like a pretty annoying character. He is stupid, infantile, never thinks about the consequences, often puts his team in danger, and it would seem that such a character can be the main character at all? But the attitude towards the hero changes over time.
When his friends are in danger, he is ready to sacrifice everything for the people he loves, even if the whole world is against him. Luffy does not accept the role of a pirate in the classical sense, because in all 1000+ chapters of the manga, he decided to rob civilians only once (they wanted to give him the treasure for rescuing them anyway). While his colleagues are engaged in rather cruel activities and destroy lives, he saves entire kingdoms and goes against the World Government because of its injustice.
For Luffy, the Pirate King is the freest person in the world, so he wants to become one above all else. Luffy is a living embodiment of freedom, a person who unites people around him and brings only positive things to this world! The character himself does not change throughout the story, it is the world around him that reveals itself to be more and more unfair and cruel. In such an evil and dark place, there is really a lack of a ray of sunshine, which Luffy becomes.
The protagonist’s team is no less bright than he is. Let’s briefly describe his teammates before the trip to the Grand Line to keep the intrigue alive for those who are reading about Van Peebles for the first time and want to get acquainted:
Zoro is a first mate with topographical cretinism who dreams of becoming the best swordsman of all time. He has a special three-sword style: one in each hand and the third in his teeth;
Nami is a cartographer who loves money and tangerines above all else and wants to draw a map of the world;
Usopp is a gunner, mechanic, inventor, sniper, helmsman, and many more professions before new members join the ship. He is a pathological liar, similar to Pinocchio, but his nose does not grow from lying. He dreams of becoming a great sea warrior;
Sanji is a koko with incredible skill, as well as a rare heel who is constantly used by the female part of the team. We consider his kicking-based fighting style to be the most spectacular in battles compared to the rest of the team, maybe except for Luffy. He smokes all the time and only battles with enemies temporarily save his lungs, but not always. He dreams of finding the All Blue Sea, where all the fish of this world are found;
The whole team has several common traits. All the pirates of the Straw Hat are deeply unhappy people at heart. All have experienced grief and received emotional trauma for life. The backstory of some of the characters can make even a stone cry. But everyone has a dream worth living for, and it is the meeting with Luffy that finally becomes the impetus for its realization. They develop as individuals throughout the story, but remain loyal to their principles and their captain, who will definitely achieve his dream and become the king of pirates!
Now let’s discuss the anime adaptation of the manga and how well it turned out.
One Piece was very lucky with its anime adaptation. Toei Animation took on the project. This is the same legendary studio that has previously created brilliant cult series such as Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon. The premiere took place on October 20, 1999, 2 years after the manga was published.
The series have been released almost every week for more than 20 years, and this is truly a titanic work. During this time, Naruto and its sequel, Hurricane Chronicles, both Steel Alchemist series, as well as two Hunter x Hunter adaptations have been released and completed. Apparently, One Piece will also surpass all of the above series combined in terms of the number of episodes. The series lags behind the manga by about 50 chapters, and most people who got acquainted with Luffy’s adventures through the anime start reading the manga first so that other readers don’t spoil their experience with spoilers.
The adaptation itself has the standard drawbacks of shonen adaptations, which are related to their long duration. Repeats of the last few minutes of the previous episode in the next one, sometimes episodes are almost entirely made up of scenes from previous episodes, rather poor backgrounds at the beginning, etc.
But these problems mostly apply only to people who watch all the episodes in one go. If you were a Japanese person who watches One Piece on TV every week, you would have forgotten who Shanks, Dragon, Labun, and other characters who disappear for hundreds of episodes over the years, and an extra flashback as a reminder would be perceived only positively.
Special thanks to the studio for the minimal number of fillers (episodes that have nothing to do with the plot), which they managed to make really interesting and relatively short. Not 30-40 episodes of stuffiness, like in Naruto or Blich, but a maximum of 13 episodes of fairly decent content. Most viewers were very surprised that the G-8 story arc turned out to be a filler, it was so good.
At the beginning, the animation is mediocre in terms of detail, but it shows itself very well in the dynamics. There are no lags, something happens every second, and dialogues with a lot of humor do not let you get bored even in quiet moments.
And the fights in this anime are considered to be among the best in the genre, and any viewer will confirm this. The first East Blue saga is a pleasure to watch even now, and every 50-100 episodes the animation progresses. The style changes, new details are added. Just look at how One Piece has changed from the first episodes and how it looks in the latest ones:
To compete with the works of Mappa (Magic Battle, Chainsaw Man) and Ufotable (Demon Blade), Toei was forced to invest ever larger budgets, and at this point One Piece has truly reached the title of king of the anime industry in terms of visuals.
The last battles of Sanji, Zoro, and Luffy are truly impressive in terms of the high quality of their production. Dozens of the best animators and directors in the industry worked on these episodes, and even representatives of Western studios were invited. The series reached its peak on August 6, when the 1071st episode, in which Luffy gained new powers, hit many anime websites and even the Crunchyroll streaming service.
There are certain differences between the manga and the anime adaptation, mainly in terms of violence. In the series, many moments were adapted for a wider audience, plus the swastika was removed from Jolly Roger of the White Russian Pirates because the image of this symbol is unacceptable in countries outside Japan (later Eiichiro Oda corrected the emblem when the manga became popular abroad).
In general, in the eternal confrontation between manga and anime, we can distinguish various advantages of both ways of familiarizing ourselves with history:
- It’s faster to read, anime essentially “chews” 20 minutes of 20 pages or even less;
- Absence of fillers;
- You can really appreciate the graphic work of Eiichiro Oda himself, the staging of scenes and dialogues only here;
- Many creative and interesting covers for each chapter;
- SBS is a several-page section in each volume of One Piece in which Oda answers readers’ questions about characters or events in the manga. A lot of interesting things can be learned only from this section, for example, the family tree of Zoro’s family, which we have never seen in the story.
- Good animation, and in the latest episodes it’s simply unbeatable;
- Great music that sinks into your soul;
- The incredible work of Japanese seiyuu (voice actors) who have been working with their characters for almost a quarter of a century;
All the pirates of the Straw Hat are depicted as knights on one of the covers just for fun.
Whichever way you start learning about history, each has its pros and cons, and it all depends solely on your preferences.
Later on, we’ll discuss the new way of getting to know a franchise that Netflix has brought to life, but how can you forget about full-length animated films?
Currently, there are 14 feature films by Toei Animation, and we will definitely be expecting more, as the last film is subtitled One Piece Film: Red grossed more than $200 million and became the most successful film in the series. Almost all of the projects have nothing to do with current history and are not necessary to watch. Moreover, the quality of these films is quite unstable. Fans recommend the 10th movie called Strong World, the 11th Z (what a name), and the 12th Gold. If you don’t have enough minutes of Shanks’ screen time for 100 episodes of anime, you can check out One Piece Film: Red, but it disappointed many people, so watch it at your own risk.
Upcoming series from Netflix
It is due to be released on August 31, 2023, and we hope it will be a success. Eiichiro Oda calls the series “The last opportunity to introduce One Piece to the world” and it seems that he really has some creative control over the project. This is indicated by the selection of actors and trailers, where plot points are easily guessed, and therefore can remain almost unchanged.
Netflix has no right to fail this project, because in theory, One Piece could become the most popular show on the streaming service due to its million-strong fanbase around the world and the small number of pirate-themed series recently. And if we recall the plot of the manga, the budget of each future episode can cost as much as a full-fledged movie. But even if the project fails, no one will take away an incredible original that has already gained worldwide recognition.
The joke about the “Netflix adaptation” that appeared because of the terrible selection of actors in the service’s series is unlikely to be relevant here, because everyone is more or less like their prototypes. We hope it will be the same in the future.
Popularity of One Piece
The One Piece franchise itself is estimated to be worth more than $21 billion as of 2023, surpassing such popular series as The Lord of the Rings, James Bond, and Transformers. More than 500 million volumes of manga have been sold, making One Piece one of the best-selling literary works in history, higher sales have only:
- Superman comics (600 million copies);
- the entire series of Harry Potter books (600 million copies);
- “Quotes from Comrade Mao Zedong” (900 million copies);
- Quran (3 billion copies);
- Bible (5 billion copies).
This is what 100 volumes or 21,450 pages look like, created by the hands of one person and combined into one book! It weighs only 17 kg. I wonder how much the final version will weigh after the manga finale?
Eiichiro Oda was so successful that he became one of the ten most successful authors in history, beating Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and John Tolkien. In addition, he was named one of the geniuses of the Reiwa era in Japan (the era of Emperor Naruhito).
More than 80 countries have purchased a license to broadcast the anime. The second largest fan community was the French. According to the author, this may have been influenced by the cult of comics in France and the presence of an ethnic Frenchman in the story, namely Sanji.
The French population has bought 31.8 million copies of the manga, and the 100th volume was released in 250,000 copies in 2021, a record for manga in Europe. The premiere of One Piece Film: Red premiered not only in Japan but also in France on August 6, 2022. Despite the global pandemic, this long-awaited movie became a real box office hit with 972,774 tickets sold in France.
Translation: Being fond of One Piece, I share with you this original drawing offered by its author. Thank you!
In Ukraine, One Piece was once broadcast by QTV, but it did not gain as much popularity as Naruto or Pokémon. Active translation of manga and anime into Ukrainian has increased the number of fans in our country in recent years. A year ago, the official Twitter account of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine published a quote from the main character that perfectly describes the confrontation with Russian aggression and symbolized Ukraine’s current successes at that time.
Foreign fans learned about the war through such tweets and began to wish Ukraine victory and hope for a big banquet afterwards. In the early days of the war, one guy, a fan from Ukraine, was even offered to raise money to travel abroad because “all One Piece fans should live to see the end of this story.” It is not known how it all ended, but it shows the community as friendly and sharing the ideals of Luffy, who “will never leave his nakama (friend) in trouble.”
One Piece is not just a popular work, but a whole era. People who got acquainted with this story in 1997 are now reading the manga or showing the anime adaptation to their children. You have the perfect opportunity to join this incredible world right now, because the franchise is at its peak! It doesn’t matter how: through reading the manga, watching the anime, or maybe through a Netflix series.
Don’t be afraid of a long story. One of the biggest paradoxes of One Piece is that after reading 1000+ chapters of the manga or watching a similar number of anime episodes, you start to feel like the story is very short. This is exactly one of the signs of great works and we will be glad if more people will touch it after reading this article.